What is a Pianola?

A Pianola

A pianola is a modified piano that can play music stored on long paper rolls. Popular in the early 1900s, the pianola can be thought of as the early 20th century equivalent of the CD or MP3 player of today.

The pianola let people who were not good piano players listen at their leisure to the popular and classical music of the day. When you wanted to listen to a different tune, you would place a different music roll in the pianola, just as you would put a different CD in your CD player today.

Information for each note was stored on the paper rolls by means of holes. The longer the hole, the longer note. Lower notes were to the left of the roll, higher notes to the right. Paper rolls were typically 10 to 15 metres long, and some even longer for longer pieces of music.

Despite their size, a typical roll would only hold up to 8 or 9 minutes of music, not the 74 minutes on a CD.

The other major difference was that most pianolas were pedal powered: They did not rely on electricity. This was important at a time when few homes had electricity.

A Pianola Roll

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